Today I’d like to tell you about June, an amazing and inspirational woman. She was born in November 1932 and grew up on the poor streets of Bethnal Green, East London, following her big brother John about everywhere he went. John found this quite tiresome, but a bond formed between them that nothing would ever break.
June was not academically gifted, nor did she ever pass any written exams. She loved children, and all she ever wanted to do was work as a dinner lady at her daughter’s school. She was good with her hands; drawing, painting, stitching, wallpapering, and making tapestries and clay pots and jugs. She always created her own dressmaking patterns, running up dresses and shirts in no time at all on her sewing machine, even in time creating her own two daughters’ wedding gowns. In her house hung many of her oil paintings and watercolours, which she often gave away to various relatives and friends who expressed a liking for them.
June had a special gift that is granted to only a few. She had the innate ability to make a person feel loved, wanted and appreciated. She was approachable and sociable, blessed with oodles of common sense, and people flocked to her with their problems. Her East London sense of humour was legendary, and a telephone conversation with her was guaranteed to end in laughter, not polite tittering, but big belly laughs that you remembered for days afterwards. Our humour may not appeal to everyone, but one particular occasion I remember is when she mentioned her husband Stan. The conversation went something like this:
June: “I sent him out for some pretty pink wrapping paper for Sarah’s birthday (her granddaughter). Do you know what he came back with?”
Stevie: “I’ve no idea!” (already beginning to giggle).
June: “Brown parcel paper! He had a top job in the City and he’s a very clever man, but do you know what?”
June: “He’s as silly as arseholes!”
Her 50 year marriage was broken only by her death in April 2012, and her husband, previously hale and hearty, quickly deteriorated into dementia within months of her passing from ovarian cancer. At her funeral the church was packed to overflowing with genuinely distressed mourners. As we filed into the church on the day of the funeral, Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’ could be heard coming through the speakers. Four years later her house is still as she had left it, just as though she had popped out for a pint of milk. Her paintbrushes sit ready on her painting table, together with the last picture she was working on. Her clothes still hang in the wardrobe, and her husband tells the cleaner to dust and hoover, but not to move anything. He has no intention of ever downsizing from the house where they shared 50 years of happy married life.
June was my auntie, and I miss her every day. Sometimes it’s not enough to have a string of degrees, certificates and diplomas if your personality resembles that of a deceased slug. Sometimes warmth, caring and an interest in your fellow man beats all the exam passes in the world. June was a ‘people’ person, just like our late Princess Diana, and those who are possessed of a loving and kind nature in my opinion tend to be remembered the longest.
Below is a photo of June and I that I’m glad that Sam took, circa April 2009. As usual we were laughing about something, but I can’t remember what it was. Behind us is June’s painting table where she painted the pictures above.
Look out for more of June in my true story ‘Waiting in the Wings’, which will be published later in the year.